Review: Gameloft Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation
As impressively as Apple's iOS devices have evolved over the past year into direct rivals for both portable and TV-tethered game consoles, it's unrealistic to expect even the best App Store games to fully rival the gameplay of top console releases -- in other words, Gameloft's new Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation ($7) isn't a full-fledged replacement for Activision's $60 Modern Warfare 3. But if you're a fan of first-person shooters, we strongly recommend that you check it out nonetheless, as it's certainly amongst the most impressive examples of its genre yet released for Apple's devices. Better yet, it's a no-nonsense universal game with support for every Apple device sold over the past two years, so you don't need to purchase it separately for an iPad and iPhone or iPod touch.
While obviously inspired by the high-grit Modern Warfare series, Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation is, like Modern Combat 2, somewhat closer to Nintendo’s and Rare’s classic shooter Goldeneye 007 in execution: only rarely does the game depart from presenting you with shooting galleries full of well-armed but apparently not well-shielded enemies, and even then, the departures tend to be light on strategy and heavy on action—different types of shooting rather than anything requiring deep thinking. Before the game shifts away from its initial United States locales, you’ll enjoy a Modern Warfare-style night vision distance gunning mission in an airplane and a high-speed ATV/helicopter shooting mission from the back of a truck in the Alaskan woods, as well as multiple on-foot segments. Most of these segments involve swiping on the left of the screen to move, swiping at the center or right to change your head position, and using buttons near the middle and bottom of the screen to crouch, shoot, zoom in with your weapon’s sight or scope, or toss grenades.
In single-player mode, most of Modern Combat 3 involves a lot of walking, crouching behind cover, and popping out to shoot machine guns—most of what you’re shooting at is at least somewhat far away. Unlike the prior Modern Combat titles, handgun and melee combat quickly come to feel trivialized in favor of assault weapons and the occasional use of a scope for sniper-like shots, while shotguns get seriously short shrift here throughout the first half of the game. On the rare occasion that you get to draw your knife on an enemy up close—sometimes with a button, sometimes in a slow-mo sequence with swipe gestures—you’ll see splashes of blood, just one of a number of “not for kids” elements in the game. Generally well-written and nicely voice acted with only small exceptions, the dialogue is peppered with profanity, making what otherwise feels like a more realistic episode of G.I. Joe feel a little more adult. A multiplayer mode features six maps and seven different modes ranging from deathmatches to bomb diffusion challenges, with both online and local Wi-Fi support.
Modern Combat 3’s single biggest asset is its artwork, which is occasionally so impressive that you won’t be able to believe you’re seeing it on your iOS device. On the iPad 2, the graphics engine looks particularly console-caliber, with representations of cities, forests, soldiers, and numerous vehicles that come closer than ever before to looking “real.” Judiciously used special effects let you enjoy watching numerous smoke trails, zipping bullets, and even ambient floating objects such as bits of dust and butterflies that keep the air around you from seeming like totally empty space.
Moreso than in the prior Modern Combat titles, the early “American invasion” missions set in suburban Los Angeles battlefields are almost chilling, depicting residential neighborhoods and even the inside of a nicely appointed home, pointing you to destroy an anti-aircraft gun positioned near a swimming pool and tennis courts. By the time you’re scoping out a boat in the arctic, complete with believable ice drifts outside and dark, tunnel-like corridors inside, you’ll be completely invested in the atmosphere and excited to see whatever’s next. Character artwork similarly looks extremely detailed, with enough polygons and texture detail to make your allies and enemies look good even up close.
Modern Combat 3 diverges most from pure shooting action in its semi-interactive intermission sequences, which are often incredibly impressive visually; you’re rarely given the freedom to move your head around a la Modern Warfare’s intermissions, but what’s put directly in front of your eyes is generally worth seeing—helicopter and airplane drops give you the chance to experience the world around the military transports you’re flying in. Other sequences offer no shortage of opportunities to see your character knocked out by explosions, scaling fences, or even dealing with a parachute failure in the middle of an air drop, sometimes with the opportunity to swipe in different directions to move the action forward.
If Modern Combat 3 has any obvious failing, it’s that these sequences and the rest of the game have been so simplified and stripped of nuance that the only skills you’ll need halfway through the 13-mission game are the same ones you arrived with. A Super Mario-style skill learning curve would help add some depth to what’s otherwise a very pretty shooter.
But as is almost always the case with Gameloft titles, it’s hard to complain too much about what’s here for the $7 asking price. First-person shooter fans should expect at least seven hours of single-player action—more if they die a lot or choose a higher difficulty level—plus plenty of opportunity to frag friends in the multiplayer mode. With Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation, Gameloft has brought iOS devices another step closer to true console gaming, this time with the universal iOS support that we’ve been waiting so long for. We highly recommend this title, and continue to anxiously await further releases in the franchise, as it has consistently been one of Gameloft’s best executed and most exciting.